This murder broadside published by James Catnach in the early 19th century is probably a work of fiction, though may have been inspired by an earlier tale set in the West Country nearly 200 years before. The text describes the murderous activities of one Thomas Johnson and his wife, who live in penury on the edge of Dartmoor with their ailing 17-year-old daughter and their lodger of a similar age. On hearing that their lodger is possessed of a small amount of cash the Johnson’s creep into the bedroom where the two girls share a bed and cut the throat of the lodger, with the intention of then stealing her money. Only when the couple place the body in a shallow grave do they discover that they have in fact murdered their own daughter by mistake.
The tension and suspense within the text of this broadside evokes the popularity of stage melodramas that existed in Victorian Britain. The text describes how the night was wild and stormy, with the sky lit by ‘blue flashes of lightning’. Also present is the mistaken sighting of a ghost.
- Full title:
- A horrid murder, giving an account how a young woman was benighted while travelling - how she applied at the cottage of Thomas Johnson for lodgings for the night - how the inhuman monster and his wife entered the apartment where she slept, with the intent
- estimated 1832, Seven Dials, London
- Broadside / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- Crime and crime fiction, Popular culture
Looking at broadsides, cheap pamphlets and the works of Charles Dickens, Judith Flanders explores how crime in the 19th century – particularly gruesome murder and executions – served as entertainment in both fiction and real life.